The long-anticipated month of September has finally arrived: it’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
President Obama issued a proclamation in honor of this occasion, recognizing that this is the time to “remember all those whose lives were cut short by pediatric cancer, to recognize the loved ones who know too well the pain it causes, and to support every child and every family battling cancer each day.”
Moreover, the proclamation acknowledges the multidimensional approach needed for childhood cancer awareness: “We join with their loved ones and the researchers, health care providers, and advocates who support them as we work toward a tomorrow where all children are able to pursue their full measure of happiness without the burden of cancer.”
As I have become more involved in the cause of childhood cancer, people have asked me why. And I think it’s important for me to be upfront about my background. No, I am not a childhood cancer survivor, nor do I have any close friends or family that have gone through the experience. But I believe that you don’t have to be personally touched by childhood cancer to care.
Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital was all it took to expose me to this different world. For me, getting to know these children and their families and witnessing how cancer permeated their lives made me determined to do something.
While I currently aspire to be a pediatric oncologist and to dedicate my career to these children, I also realize that a lot can change throughout the course of my medical education. Nevertheless, I know that childhood cancer will always be a cause that I hold dear to my heart– I know that I will continue to support these children and their families in whatever capacity that I can.
That’s why I am a firm believer in the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month campaign motto at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital:
When people think about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, most people think about dying children fulfilling their last wish to go to Disneyworld. But Make-A-Wish Foundation is about so, so much more.
As a volunteer wish granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the organization from the inside and to understand what really goes into turning a child’s wish into reality. I firmly believe that I have the best job of all- it is my responsibility to spend time with children with life-threatening conditions and help them to realize their “one, true wish.” These wishes are about more than visiting Disneyworld but rather understanding what will bring each child the greatest joy they could ever imagine.
This past week, I was inspired to hear about an incredible wish that was close to home for me: Stephen’s wish to be recruited for the University of Michigan Football Team. Like many children, he lost his ability to play football when he was diagnosed with cancer. For his wish, Stephen got to meet his favorite football player, Michigan’s football coach, and even the football team in the Big House.
The only way to appreciate the great work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation is to witness his wish for yourself:
Because dance is one way that I express myself, I’ve been wanting to dedicate a dance to the youth with cancer that I have spent time with over the years.
When I learned about Zach Sobiech, a teenager with osteosarcoma, his incredible musical talent resonated with me: the lyrics he wrote and the songs he sang expressed his inspiring attitude amidst his experiences with cancer. With subtle undertones of cancer, his music is simple yet powerful. One of my favorite songs by Zach is Sandcastles: a melodious, heartfelt duet with Sammy Brown about a far off land “where no one gets hurt and no one dies.”
Zach died one year ago today. My hope is that my choreography and performance of a dance to Sandcastles, speaks for itself.
Dedicated to youth with cancer.
To be honest, this is probably the most important thing that I’ve done in my life.
I know it sounds dramatic, but I can’t help but think that it’s true. I’ve been excited about writing a thesis since coming to college. I had no idea what it would be about, but I loved the idea of turning my own thoughts into something new. My English teacher once told me that I was a seeker; I enjoy turning to literature for answers and embracing its ambiguity. And in many ways, that is what I’ve done in my Honors English thesis.
It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around just how much of myself I’ve devoted to this research. But in many ways, this thesis is the culminating creation of my entire undergraduate education here at Michigan and more. Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients in high school initially piqued my interest; now, I’ve become dedicated to hopefully getting involved in childhood cancer as a physician. I needed to do this research: for these individuals with cancer who have had such an impact on my life but also for me, as a way of making sense of these unfathomable lives.
These final days have also been a time for remembering how fortunate I am to have so many people in my life supporting me. A close friend willingly contributed an extra set of eyes and an additional brain towards the editing process. From front to back, my mom read my entire thesis for typos. My dad morally supported me in the final stretch, and even my brother helped me to perfect the images. It’s been humbling to watch my loved ones step aside from their lives and devote their time to my own project.
Throughout the process, I’ve said that all I wanted was to be able to turn my thesis in knowing that I did everything I could and that I personally am happy with it. By my own standards, I believe that I’ve successfully accomplished this goal, and I couldn’t be more content.
If nothing else, the fact that I found myself eager to write this blog post and excited to dive into John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars to celebrate says something to me. I know that in studying literature, I’ve truly been doing something I love.
With a day full of rain, hail, and even thunder-snow, we elected to spend classtime watching the film adaptation of Margaret Edson’s play W;t. We decided to save our discussion of Audre Lorde, Angelina Jolie, and breast cancer for the following week, where guest speaker Dr. Janet Gilsdorf was coming in to speak about her experiences as a physician and as a breast cancer patient. I had been worried about how to show excerpts of W;t and do the film justice (I think it’s an incredibly powerful work), so I was happy to be able to show it to them in its entirety.
Lesson Plan Week 6
This Huffington Post article caught my eye:
Dear Cancer, This Is How You’ve Made Me Thankful.
Zoe Lintzers reflects on how she has observed the experiences of loved ones with cancer, and how cancer has helped her to better appreciate the simple pleasures of life: She writes perceptively about these experiences and her own realizations, presenting a convincing argument for what others can learn from disease and human suffering. Is illness something we should be thankful for? Despite the revelations that it may catalyze, does it demand our gratitude?
It was sometimes hard for me to look beyond some of her diction choices, though. She mentions the aunts she lost to cancer. Then she proceeds to tell of how “[t]here are the brave others in my family who have been diagnosed in the past six years and are in remission, having triumphed over a disease that makes our eyes widen and our hearts crumble upon hearing that initial diagnosis. But they’ve prevailed and, to me, are the strongest people I know.”
But what does this mean for those whose lives were lost to cancer? Were they not brave? Just because they were unable to successfully triumph over their disease, does that imply something about their strength?
I’m sure that these were not intentional questions that Lintzers meant to imply. But sometimes I feel that this can be the danger of using what Arthur Frank called “the triumph narrative.” It’s interesting to me how prevalent this language is when it comes to communicating illness experiences. Especially with cancer, a disease in which war is literally waged against one’s body. But there needs to be an increased awareness of the latent effects of the triumph narrative.
Lintzers does, however, successfully portray her personal experiences with cancer as both a painful experience but also an enlightening one: “Cancer made me see that this is what it — life — is all about.”
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
The lyrics of Sara Bareilles’ song Brave struck me. They reminded me of the purpose behind my research and my Honors English thesis: to give children and adolescents a chance to tell their own stories. And, to give all those involved the opportunity to listen, to better understand how these children and adolescents cope with the complex, mysterious illness of cancer. In my mind, the bravery arises in how children are talking and writing about their intimate experiences with cancer.
From Stronger to Roar and now Brave, my emotions are mixed about these charged music videos about the sphere of pediatric oncology. While the Stronger and Roar videos ask for donations to support childhood cancer research in the caption, this video of Brave only links to additional information about the programs offered. I wonder, how does the purpose behind these videos affect how we should respond to them?
I have to say, one of the best things about these music videos is that they counter common misconceptions about childhood cancer. Every time I tell someone that I want to be a pediatric oncologist, people stare at me and say, “Oh. That’s so depressing” or “That’s so sad!”. I’m not saying that it’s not going to be an emotionally challenging career, but at the same time, these are truly incredible and lively children. These videos portray the fun and joy that is also part of pediatric oncology. These children embrace their passions and make the most of their time in hospitals by playing games, making crafts, and finding reasons to laugh.
That’s why these videos make me smile.